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Transcranial alternating current stimulation does not modulate corticospinal activity in humans

By Jaime Ibanez, Blanka Zicher, Kate Brown, Lorenzo Rocchi, Andrea Casolo, Alessandro Del Vecchio, Danny Spampinato, Carole-Anne Vollete, John C Rothwell, Stuart N Baker, Dario Farina

Posted 15 Jan 2022
bioRxiv DOI: 10.1101/2022.01.13.476093

Transcranial alternating current stimulation (TACS) is commonly used to synchronise the output of a cortical area to other parts of the nervous system, but evidence for this based on brain recordings in humans is challenging. The brain transmits beta oscillations (~21Hz) to tonically contracted limb muscles linearly and through the fastest corticospinal pathways. Therefore, muscle activity may be used as a proxy measure for the level of beta entrainment in the corticospinal tract due to TACS over motor cortex. Here, we assessed if TACS is able to modulate the neural inputs to muscles, which would provide an indirect evidence for TACS-driven neural entrainment. In the first part of this study, we ran a series of simulations of motor neuron (MN) pools receiving inputs from corticospinal neurons with different levels of beta entrainment. Results indicated that MNs should be highly sensitive to changes in corticospinal beta activity. Then, we ran experiments on healthy human subjects (N=10) in which TACS (at 1mA) was delivered over the motor cortex at 21Hz (beta stimulation), or at 7Hz or 40Hz (control conditions) while the abductor digiti minimi (ADM) or the tibialis anterior muscle (TA) were tonically contracted. Muscle activity was measured using high-density electromyography, which allowed us to decompose the spiking activity of pools of motor units innervating the studied muscles. By analysing motor unit pool activity, we observed that none of the tested TACS conditions could consistently alter the spectral characteristics of the common neural inputs received by the muscles. These results suggest that 1mA-TACS over motor cortex given at frequencies in the beta band does not affect corticospinal beta entrainment.

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